Slaughterhouses have to better protect employees against coronavirus, Minister says

Slaughterhouses must take measures themselves to protect their employees against the coronavirus and make sure that they can do their work safely, Minister Carola Schouten of Agriculture and Food Quality said after consultation with the meat sector. She is not out to close slaughterhouses, the ball is in their court, she said, NOS reports.

Schouten met with the meat sector after 147 of the 657 employees at Vion slaughterhouse and meat processor in Groenlo tested positive for the coronavirus. The Minister discussed safety measures with the sector, also looking at transport and housing. Many slaughterhouse employees are migrant workers who live and travel to work together. 

"They [the slaughterhouses] must demonstrate that it is safe for their employees to work," Schouten said. This does not only include the people who work for the slaughterhouses, but also NVWA inspectors. If any employees find that it is not safe at work, they can report this to the Social Affairs and Employment Inspectorate, which will decide whether a slaughterhouse needs to be closed. The local safety region can also intervene if necessary. 

"Every sector in the Netherlands has to be creative. If we need more space, the amount of livestock being slaughtered may have to decrease," Schouten said. Consultations are being held to map out the consequences on meat production and cattle farming in case slaughterhouses need to close temporarily. 

The meat sector says it heard the Minister and is taking responsibility. If keeping 1.5 meters apart proves impossible, other measures will be taken like extra protective clothing. Personnel will be tested regularly to check whether the measures are working.

"We are going to do even better, we also told the Minister," Jos Goebbels, chairman of the Central Organization for the Meat Sector, said to NOS. "We are going to see how we can guarantee the meter and a half, we are going to look at the transport and we are going to look at the housing, if changes are possible there." He also stressed that they are still waiting to find out where the Groenlo employees got infected. "It is very clear that none of the infected people had symptoms. We followed the guidelines: those who are not ill can work."